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Helping children cope with a parent's job loss

Media contact:

Rebecca Gants
Senior Information Specialist, West Central Region
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 816-812-2534
Email: gantsr@missouri.edu

Published: Friday, March 27, 2009

Story source:

Nina Chen, 816-252-5051

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. – A change in financial status due to the loss of a job is a difficult crisis for families to experience. How parents handle the situation can influence their children, so it is important to communicate with them in an age-appropriate way, said a University of Missouri Extension human development specialist.

“Although parents don't need to tell children all the details about the layoff, they need to be open about the change,” said Nina Chen. “In the absence of information, children's imaginations can take over, which may cause behavioral problems.” Parents may want to wait until the job change happens to tell children unless the company's impending layoffs are announced in the media. Offer a truthful message, such as "My company is telling some workers to leave their jobs. This may happen to me. I will let you know as soon as I hear anything." Children under 7 don't need a lot of information: "I don't have a job anymore because my company doesn’t need as many workers."

Optimism and reassurance are important messages that children need to hear from their parents. Let children know that you have plans to meet with a career counselor or conduct a job search. Communicate what to expect: "We will need to make some changes in our expenses and lives, but we will be together and we will keep you safe." This message can help children feel secure and hopeful. Although it’s appropriate for parents to share their negative feelings, avoid burdening children or making promises.

Another important message that parents should send to their children is that mom or dad haven't made a mistake. Children are likely to assume that a parent did something wrong to lose a job. Older children may blame their parents for the loss: "You lost a job and I have to stop taking piano lessons.”

“Layoffs may influence children's attitudes toward the job market and shake their confidence,” Chen said. “Parents need to talk about these issues with their children and encourage them to share their fears.”

Give children opportunities to be part of the decision-making process for making changes and cutting expenses. This involvement can help children have a sense of control over the outcome and feel they are contributing. For instance, if finances are tight, parents can ask children to make the choice between piano and skating lessons. This process teaches children how to cope when things go wrong and gives parents an opportunity to model resiliency.

A job layoff can be painful for families, but most cope well with the emergency. “Crisis can mean opportunity or danger, depending on how people view the situation and deal with the crisis," Chen said. “Parents need to demonstrate a positive attitude. Communicate what you have not lost, such as your family's love, your skills, your health, your hope and your sense of humor. Exhibiting an angry and unhealthy response to the job loss may have negative consequences for the children.”

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